Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Searching for the Next David Ortiz

Whatever happened to the David Ortiz we once knew? The one that the Twins let go a couple of seasons ago after several years where his potential did not translate to performance. Remember how he could hardly play an entire season without suffering some kind of injury? Sure there was that great July of 2002, but who could have expected that to ever happen again (and this time, for almost a full season)? The Twins cut bait following the 2002 season so they wouldn't have to over-pay for potential. All Ortiz has done since then is almost win an MVP on the way to carrying his team to the 2003 playoffs. Along the way, he hit 31 HR and has added another 16 to his career totals this year including one last night against his former team. Those power numbers would look pretty good in the middle of a lineup almost completely devoid of power. A lineup whose first baseman has provided so little production as of late some circles have mentioned him in the same breath as Luis Rivas from a month ago. This all begs the question: which players on the 2004 Twins could follow the same career path as Ortiz?

Here is a list of players who may not be with the team next year due to either their contract situations or on-the-field play.

Luis Rivas and Cristian Guzman - Earlier in the season everyone was calling for their heads. That speculation has cooled as their play has improved. Each are due huge raises next year. Rivas can go to arbitration and Guzman has an option for $5.25 million. The team may decide that neither are worth the money and go with younger cheaper versions hoping for the same production. Both have a lot of unrealized potential. Rivas is having a month reminiscent of the breakout Ortiz experienced in July 2002. He has gone through spurts before and like Ortiz has suffered several injury setbacks. He could land with another team and really settle into being a productive player. It is more likely though that he will fall into being an average ballplayer not worth the $3 million it will likely cost to keep him.
Guzman might be attractive to other teams. The Twins would be out of their minds to keep him at $5.25 million. If there is a way they could keep him for less money they should make a fair attempt for what he brings to the table. He is never going to be a big base stealer or hit for any kind of power. His defense is inconsistent at best. If given the right situation he could be a very exiting catalyst down the road but I doubt the last couple of years would lead anyone to believe that no one will ever see that player.

Corey Koskie - Koskie makes the list because he will be the Twins biggest decision in the offseason. What most people forget about Ortiz was his clubhouse presence. Koskie is one of the teams most popular players and lightens up the atmosphere in the clubhouse. He also has been the team's most consistent hitter over the last couple of years. His glove is great and he has a little bit of power. It should be no surprise if he goes elsewhere and puts up numbers. The real debate is whether his back makes his signing worthwhile.

Matt LeCroy - LeCroy often split time with Ortiz when he was around. He has often struggled for playing time and has suffered a few minor injuries. The difference between LeCroy and Ortiz of a couple of years ago is that LeCroy has almost always been productive when given at bats. The problem is that LeCroy's ceiling is not as high as Ortiz's was and the Twins will have to make a decision whether they are sick of trying to get him at bats and ready to let him go. Wherever he lands he will put up decent numbers but nothing that will surprise the Twins to make them feel like they made a mistake (like they might feel with Ortiz).

Jacque Jones - The mantra since the offseason has been to trade Jacque Jones. The organization has a glut of outfielders and Jones is the most tradable. Jones' contract is up at the end of the year and he stands to get a raise in arbitration. If he is not traded before then the team may be forced to let him go. Jacque might be the best overall hitter on the team. The problem is he doesn't draw any walks and struggles against lefties. The Twins would know what they are giving up. He has played everyday and been given at bats in every situation. Someday he may have a great season and put up a very high average. If he ever learns how to walk he could be very dangerous but it will never happen.

Henry Blanco - One can only hope he is gone before the season ends for he is no "Babe" Blanco. No one has ever regretted giving up on him.

JC Romero - Recently demoted to AAA he has thrice lost the confidence of the team. He is the most talented arm in the bullpen when up and it still is going to take a lot for the team to give up on him. Faced with arbitration the Twins may decide he is not worth the risk and Romero will certainly be given an opportunity with another team. It is easy to imagine him shut down teams in the ninth for someone but with the type of problems he has had it probably wont happen. How he reacts to his latest demotion could very well determine his career path. If he comes back and performs for the Twins he will most certainly be resigned and hopefully maintain his dominance. If he struggles he may be doomed to spending the rest of his baseball life as just another bounce around reliever with great stuff and bad aim.

Michael Cuddyer - Which brings us to Cuddyer. He was once the Twins most hyped prospect. Everyone said, "look out for Cuddyer, this kid can really mash." A couple tries at a full time job later and the Twins just may be thinking it is time to cut bait. He has rarely showed his promise at the major league level while being given opportunities. Those opportunities have been short and he has lost his job after struggling for only a short time. Still, the isn't much that Cuddyer has done in the major leagues that should lead the Twins to believe he can be much more.
Out of all the players the Twins could let go in the off-season he is the one with the most potential. There is no excuse for why he has not performed but he has had his moments such as when he was called up at the end of 2002 and spring training this year. Those moments are what lead me to believe he could still achieve his ceiling. His swing is still powerful and he can play several positions but needs to settle in at one. He is still cheap next year and the team should hold on to him and his potential for one more go. Otherwise, he may be the next David Ortiz.